September 1994. "The most impassioned and publicly visible of all genetic races" (The New York Times) comes to a triumphant close with the discovery of BRCA1, popularly known as the breast cancer gene. The result of a four-year international effort involving scientists from the United States, Canada, England, France, and Japan, among others, it is hailed as one of the most significant discoveries in recent medical science.
Breakthrough is the brilliant account of this historic undertaking, its origins and development, and its implications for the future. With vivid profiles of the people and politics behind the events, Kevin Davies and Michael White unfold a scientific detective story that offers a rare glimpse into the complex--and fiercely competitive--world of genetic research.
The race began in October 1990, when Dr. Mary-Claire King startled the American Society of Human Genetics with the news that after fifteen years, her research group had found irrefutable evidence of a gene linking heredity and the risk of breast cancer. From that moment on, the quest to isolate the gene became the focus of worldwide attention, eventually reaching fever pitch. In a race against time and one another, "researchers relentlessly zeroed in on a piece of DNA too small to see, for a prize too enormous to contemplate."
In addition to the pioneering Dr. King, the distinguished scientists profiled include the renowned Francis Collins, who discovered the genes for cystic fibrosis and Huntington's disease, and Mark Skolnick, the entrepreneurial founder of Myriad Genetics, who made fascinating use of the genealogical records of Mormons in his quest for the gene. The intensity of the project brought out the extremes of scientific research, from exhilarating enthusiasm and cooperation to heated rivalry.
Beyond its fast-paced chronicle of discovery, Breakthrough is also a story of the politics of illness, focusing on the impact of the women's movement on breast cancer research and the changing attitudes of the past twenty-five years. Although, as the authors state, our "heightened awareness of the disease has been very late in coming," there is genuine cause for hope. Looking to the future, they explore current methods of screening and treatment as well as the prospects for a cure.
In the United States alone, 183,000 new cases of breast cancer are diagnosed each year--50,000 in women under the age of forty. Breakthrough is proof that modern medicine can at last offer something tangible in the battle against a unique disease about which shockingly little is known.
Rare blend of science, medicine, politics, and human nature.
Breakthrough is the intriguing real-life detective story behind one of the most important genetic research discoveries of recent times.
"Breakthrough is an absorbing and authoritative account of that quest, with an admirable grasp of the roles of the different scientists."--New Scientist
"Isolation of [the breast cancer gene] was an extraordinary technical tour de force, a major medical advance, and perhaps the last great all-out battle of the big gene-cloning empires. As an all-embracing account of the current state of breast cancer, this book has something for everyone."--Nature